George from the Netflix show BEEF serves as a reminder of my privilege as a Japanese American.

Remember when “Beef” was relevant for about 6 business days before “XO, Kitty” captured everyone’s attention and people realized David Choe wasn’t really acting in his role? Seeing the “Beef” thumbnail again as I was gearing up for another watch of “I Think You Should Leave” made me think about the series and its impact again. “Beef” was lauded for its representation of Asian Americans, which I selfishly find interesting since it is a show created by Korean Americans that includes a Japanese American. Going into the series, I was curious how a JA would be portrayed considering Japan’s historical transgressions against Korea. This is a dive into George Nakai, a (seemingly) third-generation JA, that conflicts with the other characters in his upbringing and way of thinking, and is only redeemed with his cardigan game. 

George's Artistic Pursuits

George is portrayed as a bad artist. His art career appears to be more of a legacy inherited from his successful artist father rather than a result of his own talent. This portrayal highlights the privilege often associated with artistic careers, typically accessible to the exceptionally talented or wealthy, and George isn’t portrayed as talented.

Photo credit: Netflix
Financial Comfort and Family Wealth

George's family, thanks to his father's success as an artist, enjoyed financial prosperity for most of their life. This financial stability seems to leave George somewhat indifferent to money matters. He doesn't fully grasp his wife, Amy's, dedication to her own business and appears content living off the generational wealth handed down by his family. The divide between George and Amy serves as the antithesis of the conflict between Amy and Danny, two people still hustling in hopes of generational wealth. 

Photo credit: Netflix
Emotional Immaturity

Initially, George serves as a grounded figure amidst the chaos of other characters like Amy and Danny. However, as the show progresses, it becomes clear that George lacks emotional intelligence. He offers vague platitudes and toxic positivity when Amy confides in him, highlighting his inability to truly empathize. It’s suggested that this emotional immaturity likely stems from a life devoid of significant adversity.

The Coddling Mother

George's mother, Fumi, plays a pivotal role in his life. She shields him from their family's financial issues and often makes decisions on his behalf. This coddling dynamic is a recurring theme, with no need for explicit flashbacks as it's evident in their ongoing interactions. Although this portrayal of George’s relationship with his mother is quite degrading, it serves to provide some amount of insight on the origins of George’s somewhat immature psyche. 

Photo credit: Netflix
Japanese Americans, the Whitest Asians

George’s character can be summed up as privileged. It’s often assumed, and is oftentimes true, that Japanese Americans, especially third and fourth generation, enjoy privileges and luxuries that distinguish them from first-generation immigrants. Because of this, it seemed to me as though George was a stand-in for many of the common stereotypes and assumptions that are associated with white people. And the worst part about watching “Beef” was that I found myself, as a JA, still relating to George the most. No character in the show is particularly good to “relate to” but George is by far one of the least sympathetic characters. Although it was entertaining when I first watched it, “Beef” to me is now a sobering and humbling reminder of my own privilege. 

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